Cushioning is king in running shoes these days. Shoes are thicker and softer than ever, but not correspondingly heavier or squishier as materials continue to advance. Here are four models that impressed our testers with their comfort. All are well-cushioned, but each has a distinctly nuanced ride created by its unique layers of materials, geometry and construction.
Altra Torin 4 Plush
Weight: 10.1 oz (M); 8.5 oz (W)
The Torin is the every-runner, every-day shoe in the Altra line, not too speedy nor overly protective: great for daily runs and long runs. For a “middle-of-the-road” shoe, however, the Torin 4 Plush delivers a remarkable amount of cushioned feel, without being heavy or squishy. The “Plush” in this version comes from an extra 2mm of high-energy-return TPU beneath the premium insole. Combined with the new light-and-bouncy Quantic foam, these layers deliver a ride that somehow feels both soft and responsive. “The midsole comfort doesn’t come at too high a price of energy suck because the midsole was relatively resilient and didn’t compact down during the run,” said one tester. The toe-friendly fit of the engineered knit upper is made more secure for narrow feet by a double-layer mid-foot wrap that ties into the laces—although one tester complained about the tongue moving around underneath the inner saddle. On the bottom, the segmented sole seemed to enhance the ground feel and responsiveness.
Bottom Line: A luxury sports sedan, with a plush feel and responsive suspension.
Brooks Ghost 12
Weight: 10.4 oz (M); 9.3 oz (W)
There’s a reason the Ghost has become a perennial best-seller for Brooks: The shoe makes runners comfortable. This is a slightly-evolved traditional shoe, with a sturdy heel counter, a well-padded ankle collar, a 12mm drop, wide, straight shape, and durable rubber outsole with flex grooves. While it isn’t technically dual-density, the lighter, softer DNALoft foam on the outside of the heel provides more give than the BioMoGo DNA foam that makes up the inside of the heel and the rest of the midsole. The new upper is more flexible, particularly around the toe, with unobtrusive printed overlays providing rear and mid-foot support. You end up with a smooth, soft, secure, stable, comfortable and comforting ride that doesn’t wow but carries you through lots of daily miles. “They fit my feet really well, had a decent amount of support and cushioning, and held up over the miles,” said one tester. “These are my new everyday go-to shoes.”
Bottom Line: Familiar feel, better fit, reliable ride. Not flashy, but what’s not to love?
New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon v2
Weight: 7.6 oz (M); 6.6 oz (W)
The Beacon was a breakthrough for New Balance: an ultra-light, soft ride that felt fun and fast. But the upper was a bit…stodgy, especially the thickly-padded heel and collar. The heel on the Beacon 2 is anything but conventional, with its flared top and honeycomb exterior shapes. While some found the tall heel rubbed (so they needed tall socks), it worked surprisingly well for most: it locks you in, then disappears. “The foam portion wraps around the heel, providing support in a barely-there way,” said one tester. The improvements in the upper primarily made it less obtrusive, letting the sole shine. Unlike some new foams, the Fresh Foam isn’t trampoline-like, the sole doesn’t deflect much, giving you more ground feel—you feel light and quiet over the road. “The cushioning is more protective than energy-returning but it neither dampens nor interferes with the run,” one tester said. “These are not shoes that get in your way.”
Bottom Line: A light, nimble ride that disappears while smoothing the road.
Skechers GOrun Max Road 4 Hyper
Weight: 8.4 oz (M); 6.3 oz (W)
Putting on the Max Road 4 Hyper, nothing feels firm: From the compression-knit upper to the spongy sole, it all seems to encase your foot in softness. As one tester put it, “It felt like the cushioning was wearing cushioning.” Surprisingly, the shoe doesn’t feel sloppy despite all that softness. The upper stretches where you want stretch and holds where you need it—around the midfoot and contoured heel—hugging the foot and holding it securely to the midsole. That midsole is a thick layer of Skechers’ ground-breaking HyperBurst, an expanded foam that works like high-end packing material to cushion without excessive compression. Given the thickness, testers reported some wobble underfoot, particularly when cornering, which put some off the shoe. Many, however, found that they settled in to a smooth, airy ride. “At first I thought they were too much,” said one tester, “But I started to appreciate and even like the extra springy cushion. It’s very responsive, doesn’t seem to flatten or compress easily, and it’s pretty evenly thick from front to back.” Another called the cushioning, “Very squishy and very light, just about the right amount for an average run.”
Bottom Line: A max-cushion glove with a bouncy ride that doesn’t bottom out.